Philosophy with Attitude

In another article Egon writes:

My anthropology teacher claims (and I have to say that I agree) that there is an exception to the "Survival of the Fitest (sp?)" rule. That exception is humans. No longer do we evolve as a species, instead our changes are brought about by culture. Any takers on either side of this?

But of course... and I agree with your professor, too. As a species, we have effectively stopped the normal processes of natural selection by changing our habitats, curing diseases, and generally making it possible for people who would not ordinarily survive in a "natural" environment (like me, a myopic asthmatic who was born breech!) to live full lives and, most importantly, to reproduce.

Of course, in order for this discussion to work, we have to agree on some common definitions in evolution, so here are a few (I took a course on Evolution last semester, so I know what I'm talking about :) :

natural selection: the mechanism by which evolution is thought to proceed. A combination of chance/probability (being in the right place -- eg having "good" characteristics -- at the right time -- eg during a change in the environment) and of genetics. Basically, the more suited an individual is to its environment, the more likely/probable it is that the individual will reproduce successfully.

evolution: change through time. In biology, this refers to *populations*, not individuals: I, for example, cannot evolve. However, Homo sapiens can and has. Basically, microevolution refers to the small changes that add up within a species -- the artificial selection that H. sapiens has practiced on domestic animals is a prime example, and there are a zillion more. Macroevolution is the more controvercial, since it involves the "creation" of new species through time (millions and millions of years). It is generally brought about when populations are separated from one another, allowing changes to add up to the point that two population that may have been fertile together in the past no longer are. Some varieties of dog are effectively different species since they would be unable to mate except in really bizarre circumstances (think Great Dane x chihuahua...). This is called reproductive isolation.

A common malapropism applied to evolution is "survival of the fittest". Using modern definitions, the "fittest" are those who survive long enough to reproduce. Thus we have "survival of those who survive" and of course this means absolutely nothing. Reproductive success is the key to evolution, and we should keep this in mind when discussing it.

I can see that I've already gone on too long, so... let the discussion begin!

If you just want to flame... well, go ahead, but we're not listening. :)

Yours in science,



In a previous article Jack Michaud writes:

Alright, I'll bite. I thought we were supposed to "evolve" away our pinky toe. Yes? No?

No. If the Lamarckian kind of evolution occurred, then we might. Lamarck was the one who said that acquired characteristics could be inherited, and that if a feature wasn't used, it would eventually wither away. If this were the case, then we would lose our pinkie toes, our appendix, and a host of other "useless" organs and appendages. However, natural selection doesn't work that way. The only way we could "evolve away" our pinkie toes would be if suddenly all people who were born with pinkie toes were put to death before they could reproduce. Then only those with the no-pinkie-toe mutation would survive to reproduce, and their genes would be passed on.

But in general, I disagree with the idea. I think it is very arrogant and naive for humans to consider themselves so superior to and removed from the animal world.

Not to be "species-ist" or anything, but when it comes to evolution, we are, with the exception of diseases that we cannot cure. We can still evolve resistance to disease -- for example, if someone were born with the resistance to AIDS or some other terminal disease, and that allele (the genetic characteristic) increased in the population, we would have evolved. But for the most part, selection pressures no longer act on us, and so we don't, for the most part, evolve. That's just a scientific fact, as "arrogant" as it may seem.

I think we are still evolving, but maybe not in the classical definition of the word. Now it's more of an intellectual thing.

I'll certainly go along with you here -- social and intellectual evolution have definitely occured, and will probably continue to do so. However, this is not the biological sense of evolution, and we should keep that in mind when discussing human evolution.

And even if we aren't evolving, I still believe we are part of a much bigger "natural" scheme of things, just like the rest of the animals, from which we have yet to remove ourselves, if that is even possible. (sorry about the run on sentence)

We are indeed part of the "natural" animal world. And the only way we could remove ourselves is to move off the planet and find some way to sustain ourselves without the rest of the ecosystem, or to kill everything else on the planet off. Hopefully, neither of these will occur :)

Yours in science,



In a previous article Tundrawoelfe writes:

two things, one why?

(Why I became a minister) Because, my dear Mr. Horn, it was there. But seriously... people are constantly mislabling atheism a religion. This being the case, I felt it my duty to poke fun at those who claim that I am religious by making obvious the ludicrous-ness of their position... after all, who would really want an atheist minister? (Well, I would, for my upcoming wedding -- we had a friend of ours ordained as well so that we can have a non-religious ceremony... but that's beside the point.)

Second, wouldn't that be spiritual misguidance, from my own perspective of course. ;).

I think that would depend on what I told you. I mean, I have no problem quoting the bible to those who find it appealing; I would be happy to tell you that unless you accept Christ and all that you're bound for H-E-double-hockey-sticks... Now, I would preface that with "Don't quote me on this one, but..." and you could take it with as many grains (pillars?) of salt as you were inclined to do. BUT I am legally able to guide anyone I wish, or even start my own church.

What do you think, the Church of the Non-Believers, or the more catchy, Church of the Skeptical Damned?

Peace, Love, and Curiousity,
Rev. Janbeing


In another article Tundrawoelfe writes:

On 7 Feb 1996, Rev. Janbeing wrote:

That is really petty. I like it.

What makes that petty? (re: being a minister to prove how silly it is to think that atheism is a religion) I like to think of it as "thought-provoking" myself...

Scary. How would you feel about promoting something that you didn't believe in?

Parents do it all the time (eg Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, etc), and as a teacher, I will probably have to teach things I don't agree with. Not that I like that particular prospect... I don't know; while I disagree with the principle of lying in general, there are times at which one simply must lie, to protect others or just to make someone feel better -- I, for instance, do say "Thank you" when someone blesses me for sneezing, even though I believe I really have nothing to thank them for (it _is_ pretty silly to acknowledge that someone else has sneezed, let alone to bring religion into it).

What do you think, the Church of the Non-Believers, or the more catchy, Church of the Skeptical Damned?

How about this, the Church of the Non-Conforming, Futon Swindleing, Evolution Following, Anti- Bible Thumping, Demons from the-Great-He**Fire that-doesn't-exist-anyway. Or is that too short? ;).

Well, I was with you up to the "futon swindleing" part... caveat emptor and all that jazz :)

Peace, Love, and Curiousity,

Rev. Janbeing


Isn't it funny that we are after the same thing but have different beliefs on how to get there? What is more important, getting there or our beliefs?

Not funny so much as human, I think. A lot of people have similar goals and different paths; I've lately decided that if it works for them without causing harm, then so be it. Both the getting there and the beliefs are important, but for different reasons. (I'm afraid you won't hear "The end justifies the means" from me!)

ObFlame: The temperature at which paper spontaneously ignites and burns is 451 F. (hot enough fer ya?)

Piece, Luv, and Curios,

Rev. Jan

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